THE Civil Protection Unit (CPU) failed to alert Chimanimani residents of the incoming Cyclone Idai despite having been equipped with early warning equipment four months before the disaster, resulting in the loss of lives which could have been saved, a special report by Auditor-General Mildred Chiri reveals.
Cyclone Idai hit Zimbabwe in March 2019 with devastating ferocity, leaving at least 347 people dead and 344 others missing. The missing persons are now deemed dead amid speculation they could have been washed away by floodwaters or buried in mud and rockslides.
A total of 17 608 people were left homeless in what was the worst natural disaster to ever hit Zimbabwe.
The cyclone left many in Chimanimani seeking refuge in the mountains after their homes were destroyed by floods while bridges were swept away, making rescue efforts extremely difficult as over 50 000 were directly affected.
The largest damage was in Chimanimani although Cyclone Idai’s effects were felt in many areas in Manicaland and Masvingo provinces.
It is the mandate of the CPU to prevent and reduce the impact of disaster “if and when it strikes, to react in time in the event of any form of disaster and to be proactive with regards to issues relating to disaster risk management”. The CPU is decentralised in all the provinces and districts.
According to Chiri’s special audit report titled Disaster Preparedness and Distribution of Cyclone Idai Donations in Manicaland and Masvingo, the CPU in 2018 received radio units which ought to have been used for the purpose of forewarning community members of incoming dangers.
“I noted that the Department of Meteorological Services distributed twenty (20) radio units for transmitting early warning messages to communities at ward level in Chimanimani in November 2018,” Chiri said.
“However, it appears that the Department of CPU did not broadcast early warning messages towards/communities in Chimanimani District fore-warning them about the imminent cyclone.”
The auditor-general further highlighted that some lives could have been saved had the CPU utilised the early warning equipment.
“Whilst the magnitude and extent of damage inflicted by Cyclone Idai could not have been imagined, it is still my considered view that had these warning gadgets been utilised, maybe some of the lives that were lost could have been saved.
“In future, the Meteorological Services Department is urged to ensure that radio units are effectively used to attain the intended objective.”
Cyclone Idai brought strong winds and caused severe flooding as well as rockfalls and mudslides in Madagascar, Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe.
At least 1 400 lives were killed by the cyclone while an estimated 400 000 people were displaced by the storm and resultant floods.
The Zimbabwean government failed to act decisively by moving people to higher ground and disseminating information on the impending dangers, despite being alive to the devastation in Madagascar and Mozambique which had been hit by the cyclone earlier.
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